I’ve been in and out of the blogging world for years; it’s never been much of a focus, but I’ve given it a shake from time to time. As I’ve entered the academic world, it’s become even more clear that I need to concentrate on my economics career—there’s always a paper that I could benefit from reading, or a model that I should commit to writing. It would be natural to give up blogging altogether.
At the same time, I feel there’s something seriously lacking in the economic debate we see online: while we’re awash in clever thinkers and eccentric viewpoints, we hardly have anyone that straightforwardly puts forth the consensus of mainstream economics (insofar as it exists). And to some extent, that’s fine: the mainstream can work through traditional institutions, while the internet channels the diverse and often bewildering opinions that make it great. But blogs have become one of the main ways that policymakers and assorted intellectuals learn about economics. The top few econ blogs have a readership that would crush the Journal of Economic Perspectives. And still, very few voices manage to articulate the core macroeconomic framework that economists from Greg Mankiw to Paul Krugman share. (And if you didn’t think that Greg Mankiw and Paul Krugman could share any core beliefs… well, that’s another example of how the blogosphere has failed you.)
I don’t view myself as simplemindedly defending the consensus: academic economists don’t have all the answers, and in some cases they have very few. I’ve noticed, however, that when bloggers assail economists for supposedly empty-headed dogmatism, they’ve rarely even made an effort to understand why economists came to a consensus in the first place. (The incessant complaints about the CPI are a particularly egregious case.) Some pushback is in order.
Of course, I also don’t want to exaggerate the extent to which economists have reached a consensus. Pat Kehoe has rather different ideas about macroeconomics than Mike Woodford. Given recent events, there is a strong sense that economists have misdirected their efforts: too much focus on comparatively minor technicalities, and too little focus on the financial crises that actually cause the most severe dislocations. But there are still many basic questions where economists, at the very least, have learned what to rule out, and those insights are much needed in the conversation today.